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La La Land exodus continues, but Galaxy will rebuild, reload

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The LA Galaxy, not far removed from winning three MLS Cups in four years — they completed the feat just 12 months ago, actually — are in full-on tear-it-down-to-build-it-back-up mode this winter, and rightly so.

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On Tuesday it was announced that MLS’s premier club had sold U.S. national team defender Omar Gonzalez to Pachuca of Mexico’s Liga MX, a move that would allow financial flexibility to address a number of issues ahead of the 2016 season. Tuesday’s announcement was followed by the sale of midfielder Juninho to Club Tijuana, also of Liga MX. Both players won three MLS Cups during their time in Los Angeles, and both players leave massive holes to fill, in so many different ways.

So, where do the Galaxy go from here? In typical Galaxy fashion, they won’t just rebuild; they’ll reload.

For starters, no team in the league sells itself to players and better convinces them to make the plunge into MLS, than the Galaxy. While most MLS teams in a similar situation would look to rebuild through retreaded MLS players who’ve been around the block a few times, the player pool from which the Galaxy will select is much larger — and, to put it bluntly — better than that of the average MLS team.

[ MORE: MLS hot stove — Offseason signings, trades update ]

Rebuilding Building a backline

In truth, the defense was going to need a major addition at center back this winter, which would have been nearly impossible given roster and cap restrictions, to make it anything more than passable in 2016 anyway. The fact that Gonzalez is also gone means the Galaxy can employ two MLS-caliber center backs in 2016, rather than just one, as has been the case for a handful of years now.

While the Galaxy didn’t receive any additional allocation money for selling Gonzalez, the $436,250 (Designated Player salary cap charge) of savings against the cap could easily be used to sign a pair of starting center backs for the price of one.

MLS-based options: Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City — it’s a deal that might just make sense for both sides (for more, listen here); Chris Schuler, Real Salt Lake (out of contract) — when healthy, one of the highest-upside center backs in the league, and a perfect candidate to cover acres of space.

Verdict: Whoever the Galaxy go for at center back, he/they will need to be extremely mobile and able to cover lots of ground with Gerrard acting as a turnstile in front of the backline. Whatever they do, they should not go out and spend whatever it would cost to sign Ashley Cole.

[ MORE: Gil leaves RSL for MexicoBeckham wants Zlatan in Miami ]

Tailoring a midfield to Gerrard’s strengths/weaknesses

The massive elephant in the room is the indisputable fact that Steven Gerrard‘s presence on the roster forced such widespread roster turnover this winter. His $6.3 million annual salary makes him the highest-paid Galaxy player heading into 2016 — all for a player who hugely disrupted the team’s chemistry and balance upon his arrival in August of this year.

The $350,000 of salary cap relief from selling Juninho, plus the windfall of allocation money received in the deal, plus the league’s additional investment of targeted allocation money, plus the sale of Gonzalez, means the Galaxy now have close to $2 million of on-budget cash with which to work this winter — flexibility they’d otherwise not have had.

MLS-based options: Jermaine Jones, New England Revolution (out of contract) — they’d have to give up a serious chunk of cash to acquire his rights from the Revs, but he’s got a house in LA and he’s the box-to-box terror Gerrard needs to play alongside; Perry Kitchen, D.C. United (out of contract) — again, they’d have to acquire his rights, and he’d have to be the stationary d-mid in front of the defense, but he’s a better player right now than both Jones and Gerrard; Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders (reportedly on the trading block) — his legs aren’t what they once were, and he’s hurt with alarmingly increasing frequency, but he’s as experienced and wily as they come.

Verdict: This is probably where the Galaxy look to the international market, more so than at center back, at least. Again, Gerrard needs a very specific midfield partner to protect him defensively and afford him the opportunity to maraud forward when he decides it’s time to play hero-ball. Think: a Roger Espinoza-type player.

However they rebuild and reload this winter, the Galaxy will be a factor come August and September next year, because 1) they’re the Galaxy, which means it’s their birth-given right in MLS; and, 2) they’re the richest (and most astute) team in the league, now flush with the most MLS-specific cash we’ve seen in a long, long time. To the rest of MLS: beware.

Scott Parker’s first season as a manager ends in Fulham promotion

Fulham promotion
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after just one season in the EFL Championship, and that means Scott Parker has worked something of a minor miracle in west London.

[ MORE: Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship ]

Parker took on a hefty challenge when he accepted his first senior managerial job last year. Fulham were a virtual lock to be relegated from the Premier League when he was named interim boss in February, and their place in the second division had long since been confirmed by the time he was named Claudio Ranieri’s permanent successor in May. The squad was expensive, bloated and full of players who had no intention of sticking around after relegation.

Given the club’s wealth of resources relative to the rest of the Championship, promotion at the first time of asking was more an expectation than a hope at Craven Cottage. Fast-forward 15 months, and the 39-year-old has quickly proven himself the right man for the job after doing just that — taking Fulham back to the PL by way of Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final.

Promotion may have been sealed on Tuesday, but Parker believes it was earned over a long period of transition and self-reflection by the players, beginning when he first took the job — quotes from the BBC:

“We’ve done what we’ve done tonight, but there’s still improvement, and that’s what makes me so proud and happy.

“For all of the good players and everything you see, what makes me so happy is I see a group of players who only a year ago were struggling psychologically, didn’t have a mindset or mentality.

“I’ve driven this team every single day and what makes me proud is I stood on the touchline tonight and seen a team that represents what I’ve been saying over the last 12 months.”

Now comes the the truly difficult challenge for Parker: after winning Fulham promotion he must assemble a squad of players not only good enough to stay in the PL, but also one full of individuals who want to be at his club and not simply any club that just so happens to be in England’s top division.

Promoted! Fulham back in PL after 1 season in Championship

Championship promotion playoff final
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Fulham are headed back to the Premier League after claiming west London derby delight at the expense of local rivals Brentford in Tuesday’s Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

It was an incredibly cagey affair — as the Championship promotion playoff final tends to be — that saw the two sides combine for just 17 shots (four on target) through 90 minutes of regular time. In the end, it was the most unlikely of restarts halfway through extra time that sent the Cottagers on their way.

Brentford were nearly the architects of their own downfall early in the first half. FirstIt was a poor back pass from Henrik Dalsgaard that left David Raya in worlds of trouble in the 10th minute, though Fulham were unable to find a proper chance amid the chaos inside Brentford’s box.

Fulham were perhaps fortunate not to go a man down in the 29th minute, when Harrison Reed slid through Christian Norgaard and put studs into the Dane’s ankle. Reed came over top of the ball in a 50-50 challenge and, despite first making contact with the ball, came in with borderline excessive force and in a reckless fashion. Nonetheless, only a yellow card for the on-loan Southampton youngster.

[ MORE: Christian Pulisic issues injury update ]

The start of the second half looked like more of the same from the first half: Fulham with an early chance and Brentford scrambling to stay level. Neeskens Kebano curled a free kick around the wall in the 48th minute, likely beating Raya if it was on frame, but only managed to rippled the outside netting.

Championship Golden Boot runner-up (25 goals) Ollie Watkins had the final scoring chance of regular time in the 70th minute as he fired from the edge of Fulham’s penalty area, but Marek Rodak was able to comfortably palm the ball over the crossbar. Still, the first threatening signs of life from the Bees.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

The decisive moment finally arrived in the 105th minute, and it came from absolutely nothing — less than nothing, one might credibly argue. Joe Bryan was tasked with restarting play following a foul roughly 50 yards from goal. Rather than lofting the ball high and to the back post, as Raya so clearly expected him to do, Bryan wrapped his left foot around the ball and whipped it toward the near post — as “near” as it can be from 50-plus yards. Raya was painfully slow to recognize the shot and tried to scramble across the face of goal, but never had a chance of getting anywhere near the ball.

Bryan doubled Fulham’s lead in the 117th minute. It was fast and fluid one-two atop Brentford’s penalty area and the left back tucked it away to seal promotion back to the top flight, and it turned out to be hugely necessary after Dalsgaard poked home a late consolation goal for the Bees with virtually the last kick of the game.

Fulham spent the 2018-19 season in the Premier League but finished with just 26 points in 19th place and were relegated back to the Championship after one season. Only time will tell if they’re able to stay in the top division this time, or if they’re a full-time yo-yo club.

Transfer confirmed: Ferran Torres to Man City for $26 million

Ferran Torres to Man City
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Reports sending Valencia youngster Ferran Torres to Man City have been burning red-hot over the last 24 hours.

[ MORE: Ranking the new Premier League kits for 2020-21 ]

Man City confirmed their capture of the 20-year-old — one of the brightest prospects in all of Europe — on Tuesday.

Torres, who came through the Valencia academy, tallied six goals and seven assists in 43 appearances (all competitions), including two of each in the Champions League, for Valencia this season.

He broke into Valencia’s first team back in November of 2017, at the age of 17, before establishing himself as a regular over the last two seasons.

[ MORE: Man United, Dortmund in talks over $140 million Sancho transfer ]

Reports out of the UK claim it will reportedly cost just $26 million to bring Ferran Torres to Man City, plus possible add-ons, as he had just one year remaining on his contact with Valencia. Torres reportedly met with City sporting director Txiki Begiristain earlier on Tuesday, adding further fuel to the fire that a move was imminent.

Torres seems an obvious replacement for recently departed winger Leroy Sane. He’ll join Raheem Sterling as one of only two natural wingers in Pep Guardiola’s squad, offering more tactical flexibility — not to mention, width — after City were fairly limited in the wide areas during the 2019-20 season.

Championship playoff final: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Brentford - Fulham
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Fulham – Brentford: Team news is in with the two West London sides set to do battle for a place in the Premier League in the Football League Championship promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

We can hardly wait to find out who’ll claim the 20th berth in the 2020-21 Premier League season in the richest game on earth.

[ MORE: Predictions, Odds for Europe ]

Kickoff is at 2:45 pm ET Tuesday at Wembley Stadium.

Team news


Key players

Fulham leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 26 goals were the joint-most in the Championship and more than three times as many as Tom Cairney, second amongst the Cottagers. He’s healthy for the first time after missing the semis with a hamstring injury.

Brentford’s Ollie Watkins scored the same amount of goals as Mitrovic, tying for the league lead, and he’s joined by Said Benrahma’s 17 goals (fifth in the league) and Bryan Mbeumo (eighth). The latter have combined for 16 assists, too. The Bees can sting.

Their seasons

Brentford won a even-straight league games to surge into the mix for automatic promotion but lost their last two, meeting Fulham on 81 points.

As for the Cottagers, Fulham finished the season on a seven-match unbeaten run which included five wins

Their playoffs

Brentford overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to oust Swansea City in the semifinal, while Fulham’s first leg win was enough to outlast Cardiff City’s strong second leg in their semi.

Odds and ends

Brentford beat Fulham twice, 1-0 at Griffin Park and 2-0 at Craven Cottage.

The Bees are favored to win the match at +108 odds, while Fulham carries +265 odds of a win.

Prediction

Mitrovic’s availability is huge for a Fulham side hoping to break down the league’s second-stingiest defense. Brentford feels like it’s the superior side but Fulham has been here and Cairney even scored the goal to beat Aston Villa in the 2017-18 playoff final. That experience is an X-factor, but we’ll still call Brentford 2-1 winners.

How to watch Fulham – Brentford

Kickoff: 2:45 pm ET Tuesday
Stream: ESPN+